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But although the flight plan warns of anti-aircraft activity in the area, this time he wants to make his approach low over Ha Long Bay—there, he has heard, the limestone monoliths look like thousands of broken teeth from above, scattered in the blue expanse. It was his predilection for intricate mechanical workings that brought Silas into the Air Force, but now, having studied too many gauges and turned too many dials, only the exquisite peculiarities of nature widen his eyes. The day grows long as Silas flies. He is on schedule to watch the pastel sunset, but as the sky turns purple in its wake, he grows anxious—if the bay is not lit properly, it will be a wasted effort. Yet sure enough, before the light has faded, Silas glimpses the network of tiny islets far below him, and begins his descent into Ha Long Bay. A sense of majesty spreads in Silas’ chest. He casts a bleary eye over the seascape and smiles. The limestone karsts cast dusky shadows over the still water, creating the image of chess pieces under a desk lamp. Then, as Silas flies lower, they begin to look like uncut gems, jagged but each unique, and in his budding madness he pretends to pick them up one by one. Silas does not see the barrage of North Vietnamese anti-aircraft missiles. He only flies on, smiling stupidly at his handful of imaginary islands. There is a boom, and then the fire that begins in the heavens comes quickly down to earth, crashing into the moonlit lagoon between the Kissing Rocks and Sung Sot Cave. By now, Cho has heard of many other crashes in Ha Long Bay. But he has seen only the first one, which carried the floating village on its ripples to the far reaches of the world. From the beach, he watches the explosion blossom in the sky and the ensuing fireball begins its descent. He watches its billowing serpentine tails. He watches the sides of the limestone glow pink, and in a flash of color, the still lagoon receives the dragon. But tonight only the nosy Phuong sisters meander out to the spot of the crash, followed by a few others. Cho merely shakes his head and turns around. The snails are getting away.

Profile for The Blue Route

The Blue Route 2  

The Blue Route 2  

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